It’s football season! The flags will be flying, notes will be passed in mailboxes, a family will skillfully navigate a football rivalry, and hopefully my next-door neighbor will disappear back into the witness protection program.

Let me explain.

College football season is special in the south. It brings out the child in many of us. Favorite teams, favorite colors, season tickets, tailgating, and talk shows are all staples of the Southern fall pastime. Living in a southern community that is not dominated by any one-college team but instead has supporters of many teams makes for a fun neighborhood once the games kick off. Most of my neighbors aren’t season ticket holders of any one team and don’t go to many games. They all have an affiliation and are occasional game visitors but the television is their dominant viewing pleasure.

On any given Saturday…

My next-door neighbor on the left side of us, an Auburn man, flies his big Auburn flag above the two boats in his boat house on the Choctawhatchee Bay. Two boats you wonder? One is for fun and one for fishing. Doesn’t everyone have two?

On windy days that big ole Auburn flag unfurls beautifully in the wind above the Bay. Kevin, the neighbor, and I visit often across the little fence in our backyards. He is a great neighbor.

Kevin visits Auburn for two or three games a year and on many other Saturdays during the season, he will host viewing parties at his home with lots of friends, beverages and good food. Neighbors drift up to his dock in their boats. Kevin always makes sure we are invited. I did say he is a good neighbor!

Kevin is Auburn through and through but he is not braggadocios or obnoxious. He’s even tempered about the whole thing, and whether Auburn wins or loses, he and his wife Laurie will often load up and go fishing after the game.

Then there’s Marvin.

Marvin went to Georgia. He is my golfing buddy. Marvin is a retired Air Force officer, a good guy and also a great neighbor. Marvin gets more upset over hitting a bad tee shot than he does over a football game. He has on occasion put a note in my mailbox with the score of the game when Georgia wins. The last time he did, it backfired on him. It was a game when Georgia spanked Auburn badly (take your choice of years). I went out to the street to my mailbox and there was a note with the score of the game in bright Georgia colors. I knew immediately Marvin was the culprit. Unfortunately for Marvin, it was a day when the other six guys who I played with at Auburn and who live in the area were all over Kevin’s house. It was a mini-reunion of sorts for us. I took the note in and showed it to them and suggested we go visit Marvin.

Marvin weighs in around 160 pounds. Every one of us easily top 200+. We rang Marvin’s doorbell and waited. I still see his face. None of the guys were smiling. They all had their arms folded and asked, “Are you Marvin? We all played at Auburn.”

He nearly s_ it his britches when I held up the note he’d left and asked in a brusque voice “Marvin did you leave this in my mailbox?” He stammered an inaudible response.

I spoiled it all when I couldn’t hold my laughter any longer and busted out in a loud holler. The guys started laughing, and finally relieved, Marvin realized it was a joke and he laughed. Everyone hugged him and he had the story of a lifetime. Marvin tells me he’s gotten lots of mileage out of that story with his Georgia friends and relatives.

Ken and Sarah have since moved to another neighborhood but their story is interesting. They lived two houses over. Ken is an Auburn grad and Sarah graduated from the University of Alabama. Do I need to say any more? They’ve made it work for nearly 30 years and two children. Ken says on the day of the annual game between Auburn and Alabama they remind each other to be nice. In Auburn’s six-game win streak during the early 2000s Sarah lucked out because Ken was deployed most of the time in the Middle East so she did not have to bear the brunt of his jokes. During the Alabama win streak of late Sarah says Ken finds it convenient to study since he is now involved in a PhD program. “I wish I could watch the game with you,” he fibs. She smiles and walks away. They have a rule. In their family the winner never gloats. A sly smile will do.

There are others.

The lawn service man, an Alabama fan, is deserving of his own story. That one will follow soon. Look for it.

The two Mississippi State families down the street live next door to each other. Between the two houses there are at least seven big pickup trucks. All are Mississippi State maroon. I want to know if the horns on the trucks ring like cowbells when you blow them. I haven’t gotten up the nerve to ask.

And that brings me to my next-door neighbor on the right side of us. Right is generally a word I don’t use in relation to him. He is a dyed in red Alabama fan that out of place in a neighborhood that is fairly easy going about their college football. On game days he dresses in red, hangs his ALABAMA banner out of his back deck, pulls his red vehicles with the red tags and the big white A on their front bumper, in prominent position in his driveway for others to see and struts and sticks his chest out in his red sweatshirt as if he is going to play that day. I doubt seriously if he has ever played, any sport, but don’t confuse him with facts. When Alabama makes good plays you can hear him in his house hollering and cheering up and down the street. When things don’t go well he again hollers but his language is not suitable for this blog.

Alabama has been on a roll these last few years, which has brought him back to college football. In their turbulent years of the late 90s and early 2000s he was “not too much into college football,” according to him. Funny, how winning changes things.

The first year we moved into our house, Alabama won and when I went out to get my morning newspaper, a la Marvin, there was a note with the score of the game in my paper. After that Alabama lost to Auburn six times in a row. There were no notes in my newspaper during those years. After those games he was nowhere to be found. His house would be dark, no lights, no sound, nothing. I told my wife the trauma must have sent him into the witness protection program, and that he moved to Arizona and took a new name.

The neighborhood is again buzzing, flags are flying and possibly notes will be passed among the neighbors. The Mississippi State trucks are rolling up and down the street, a mini-parade. Marvin is sharpening his crayons in anticipation of another Georgia victory over Auburn and if I’m lucky this year, Mr. Alabama fan will once again disappear into witness protection.